Ellis and Nietzsche: let them sniff chairs

6 Jul

That ageing provocateur Bob Ellis, pictured here showing what Coke can really do to you, wrote a truly awful piece on the Drum yesterday to which on principle I will not link, basically arguing that feminism is responsible for the downfall by sex of many famous men from Oscar Wilde (???) to Dominique Strauss Kahn.

Heck, I have to link, it isn’t fair to talk about it otherwise.

The piece was almost universally howled down, and the ABC shut off the comments option at around three hundred and something, only the day after it was published.

What Ellis’s pleas for a more understanding and forgiving attitude to male desire did make me ponder, is how easily male public figures are brought down by their sexual activities, whether they’re caught playing away, sniffing chairs, exiting gay bars or cavorting in their underpants when one would wish them to be fully dressed. Though for Ellis to claim this has much to do with feminism is contestable, as there weren’t a lot of feminists braying for Oscar Wilde’s scalp, for example.

Usually these public figures are brought down by their male enemies who might very well employ some appropriate feminist rhetoric to make them look good and properly concerned about the women allegedly injured in the blokes’ peccadilloes (except in the case of Oscar Wilde and any other man brought undone by participation in gay sex or rumours of gay sex.)

What this says is that as a society we are apparently very uptight about the morals of influential men, or more likely there are forces at work who want us to think we are.

If a man is unfaithful to his wife, how does this affect his professional performance? The answer is we don’t know. Nobody’s done the studies. We make an assumption, based on current moral values about sex, fidelity and monogamy that if he’s deceiving his wife, he’s likely deceiving everybody else. This seems to me to be a slightly insane deduction. We all know how human beings can and do categorize, especially when sexual desire is at work in them.

Was Bill Clinton’s presidential performance changed for the worse as a consequence of letting Monica puff on his cigar, for example? (No, she didn’t inhale. They found the smoke on her frock.) Do we have the  right to judge a man’s whole life (or a woman’s for that matter, but sexual disgrace doesn’t seem to befall influential women to anything like the same extent) on the strength of his sexual behaviour?

Of course I’m only talking about non criminal situations. If  an influential man is found to have acted criminally in sexual matters, then that needs to be viewed as would any other criminal behaviour.

Ellis claims that a lot of good men are cut off at the balls because feminist wowsers can’t deal with their expression of their sexuality. Men have always been at the mercy of their desires, he claims, and everybody needs to cut them some slack if they Fall. High levels of testosterone go hand in hand with high levels of achievement, so there’s bound to be trouble.

There isn’t much to take away form Bob’s rave, except that it does remind me that the society in which we live seems to have a dominant moral view of sex as at best naughty, and at worst, really scary and requiring all kinds of societal controls, including marriage and monogamy. Repression is the price we pay for civilization. Give adolescents condoms and they’ll be at it in the aisles at school.

Any public figure who transgresses the dominant sexual morality runs the risk of being terminally banished, not because they’re particularly evil, or even a little bit bad, but because they’ve given their opponents a brilliant excuse to run them out of the game, under the guise of upholding society’s moral values.

While straying from one’s chosen partner is going to cause a lot of grief, does that make it immoral? If a man in a powerful position engages in a consensual sexual encounter with a woman with less power, is that an immoral act? Who is determining our moral values at this point in our history, how are they determining them, and to what purpose?

Or is there truth in Nietzsche’s claim that:

There are systems of morals which are meant to justify their author in the eyes of other people; other systems of morals are meant to tranquilize him, and make him self-satisfied; with other systems he wants to crucify and humble himself, with others he wishes to take revenge, with others to conceal himself, with others to glorify himself and gain superiority and distinction,–this system of morals helps its author to forget, that system makes him, or something of him, forgotten, many a moralist would like to exercise power and creative arbitrariness over mankind, many another, perhaps, Kant especially, gives us to understand by his morals that “what is estimable in me, is that I know how to obey–and with you it SHALL not be otherwise than with me!” In short, systems of morals are only a sign language of the emotions.”

Whatever the answer, it’s a pretty safe bet that it’s got very little to do with feminism, or even wowser feminism. Sorry, Bob. You blokes are on your own with this one.

7 Responses to “Ellis and Nietzsche: let them sniff chairs”

  1. paul walter July 6, 2011 at 6:41 pm #

    A modern day Nietzsche, our Bob?
    But the twist with Kant is sly, yet taken as a whole roles over to a new insight and sensibility, because illuminates that there is genuinely conscious form within which modernism is operating, as shown in the uneasy evasiveness of “Heart of Darkness” a century ago.
    That Ellis is a humorist of course cannot be doubted. That women’s objections to being “jumped on” by an enthusiast “rutting chimpanzee” not of their choice is some thing deserving of dismissal is a bit cheeky and some should be amused.
    But no even half awake man should think to deny that wicked damage is done women in a given day throughout our world, that has be taken into account as forming the context for the resulting suspicion of fellas by some women..


    • Jennifer Wilson July 7, 2011 at 7:51 am #

      Bob tried to get a few arguments up in the comments, which he usually does pretty well, but they shut him down. No, I don’t think he’s a Nietzsche, he’s just likes getting everybody aggravated, and roused out of the plasma TV stupor. He’s a good writer, sometimes brilliant – but as Gerard says, the link between sexual perfidy and the death of creativity is tenuous.


  2. gerard oosterman July 6, 2011 at 8:55 pm #

    Anyway, Oscar Wilde still managed The Ballad of Reading goal, despite his so-called downfall or because of it.

    Yet each man kills the thing he loves
    By each let this be heard.
    Some do it with a bitter look,
    Some with a flattering word.
    The coward does it with a kiss,
    The brave man with a sword!

    And then there was Jean Paul Sibelius who never wrote a single note for the last thirty years of his life, never having been convicted for any sniffed bicycle seats or diving under the table.
    The connection of being creative or having supreme leadership qualities to end because of sexual misdemeanors or public exposure is a teneous one that Bob Ellis should have picked up along the way. He is not a school boy sitting in the bus holding his first Pluto Pop..


  3. gerard oosterman July 7, 2011 at 9:30 am #

    Sweet memories Jennifer. Of course, later on I learnt there was more to it than love to diesel buses. It just had to go somewhere else.


  4. paul walter July 9, 2011 at 2:29 pm #

    Just having a second read.
    I can identify with Ellis more this time around, Jennifer is right to offer support for Ellis on his point that tabloid media trivialises, conducts witchhunts and manipulates prejudice, prurience, fear and ignorance. Thinking on it, the cost, for example, of tabloid media’s obsession with rape and paedophilia means that a whole generation of fearful women have adopted enmasse the practice of taking their kids to school and back home, whereas kids of my generation and earlier were happily allowed to walk or cycle there and back.
    It’s a slightly clumsy example, it is a violent world out there, but it seems the media, in the chase for an easy story, have created a phenomena that has taken on a life of its own, on the Hollywood model of Mrs Perfect guarding her family, as all sorts of Robert Mitchum/ Robert De Niro types lurk in the shrubs or underground drains, in the dark. But some argue, furthermore, that gonzo media has also inculcated an attitude and lifestyle into “receptive” blue collar men that stresses assertiveness ,some times in sacrificing reality for “action” in a movie, for example ( the poms do better at the human nature things because they don’t have the same sort of money to waste on whizz-bangs).
    Back to Clinton, of course a guilty conscience fouls up your ability to function- he got caught out in a compromising situation and had to spend time shoring up his personal position instead of getting on with government, which really demonstrates the height of republican irresponsibility, so reminiscint of the current oppostion ‘s “playing” of the asylum seeker issue. I think Clinton’s mistake came more in offering opinions on issues, specifically his wife, to Lewinsky. THAT was the betrayal, the point where he had to distinguish himself from his situation, to Lewinsky and that’s what he’s paid for and continues to pay for. What was “personal” between him and Hillary ought not to have been a conversation piece for pillow chat with Monica.
    Ellis’s point is that we have changed from a physical, modernist, masculinist society into a more “domestic” sort of world, in this new sort of society the old blue jokes, etc are no longer tolerated. Feminism made it clear that certain behaviours and arrangements were problematic for many women and anachronisms like Bob Ellis, a man who no doubt leaves the toilet seat down when releiving himself, have found out that some of our (male) fondest traits, such as scratching our crotches or bums, or gouging wax out of our ears, is offensive, when we figured it was normal and even sensible.
    And that Neitzsche. In order to make an incredibly valid point and corrective to some of the romanticist and classical liberalist bullshit about the real genesis of morals and subjectivity that would have drawn a smile for Jung and Freud, he’s left a hole a truck could drive through, by denying even the possibility for a role for genuine morals,er concern, it becomes superfluous to think of things like boat people, also, for example.
    Yet the same fellow expressed his view that the New Man was distinguished by his flexibility rather than an overt recourse to the employ of brute force, induced through lack of imagination.


    • Jennifer Wilson July 10, 2011 at 7:33 am #

      I think there is a big difference between feeling concern, and then morphing that emotion into a moral judgement and a moral system. I don’t understand Nietzsche as condemning of the feeling, rather of pointing out that from the feeling we create a moral universe and we might do better just to stick to and act on the feeling of concern without having to extrapolate into good and evil.

      Bit like some spiritual attitudes: emotions, epxerpiences etc have no moral value, they simply are.

      Bit like Hamlet, maybe: “there’s nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so..” Though whether that observation is about moral relativism or something else, like self reassurance, self soothing, is open to debate I guess.


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